A big brand is like an a-list celebrity, the expectation to surprise and delight is fierce, but when they flounder or offend, the world is quick to whinge, bitch and heckle.
It begs the question: Is any publicity really good publicity?
Probably not for Malaysia Airlines. The tortured airline, last week, got caught up in a campaign blunder whereby customers booking tickets between September 1 and the end of the year were asked to name their “bucket list” destinations. The best answers were in the running to win either iPads or plane tickets.
The “bucket list” campaign came under fire for this reason:
a number of experiences or achievements that a person hopes to have or accomplish Before they die.
Between the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the shooting down of Flight 17, where 537 lives were lost, the “bucket list” campaign was deemed insensitive and inappropriate. The airline then decided to withdraw the campaign.
Tom Sanders, head of strategy at PLAY Communications says: “Anger to brands has gone from the abstract to the deeply personal, because brands have done such a ‘good’ job at trying to convince us we have a personal relationship.” He argues that marketing folk have tried to befriend consumers for yonks. “The problem is, we’re still not at the stage where we believe that businesses are the same as buddies. So when they offend us, we don’t shrug it off in the way we might do for a real person,” he adds.
It seems – at times – the marketing departments of certain brands could benefit from a quick trawl through the daily news. Sometimes world events and current affairs might inspire campaign genius, but on the flip side, it can crash and burn into an offensive heap, like it did for the US TV series, Sleepy Hollow.
Sleepy Hollow copped some serious flack on social media last week for a campaign trumpeting “National Beheading Day” on the exact day terrorist organisation ISIS claimed to have decapitated American journalist Steven Sotloff.
The series of unfortunate events continued with the release of eCards promoting #HeadlessDay for the show’s upcoming season. The campaign faux pas was in no way related the devastating news of Sotloff, it was intended as a reference to the show’s headless horseman character. Poor timing Sleepy Hollow marketeers.
“As far as WTF campaigns go, this Carefree one comes to mind,” says Hannah Furness, managing director at PR firm Straight Up.
The brand made headlines back in 2012 as it was the first to use the word “vagina” in a commercial produced by 303Lowe. The ad upset numerous viewers and a spokeswoman from the ASB admitted the Carefree Acti-Fresh pantyliner ad received several complaints soon after the commercial first went to air in New Zealand.
Until the advertising watchdog ruled “vagina” as an acceptable word to use in adverts, it was widely considered taboo.
Furness argues that the Carefree campaign may have been bold and shocking for some, but it was the WTF factor that scored the TVC points. She says: “From a success perspective, it worked on many levels. It dared to speak frankly to women about their bodies. It broke new grounds in advertising by saying the word vagina on TV, and reinvigorated sales in the process.”
“Research showed that women wanted Sanitary protection ads to use the real name of things, or not to refer to them at all. It was decided to be respectful, honest and bold – to encourage women to talk openly about their bodies while educating them about the benefits of using liners,” she adds.
The Carefree campaign erupted across the Pacific, UK, USA,Russia and Brazil. Furness explains of more than 108 articles, “95% were either neutral or positive about the campaign. It was even debated on The Project and Q&A with Nicole Roxon, Australia’s then Attorney General entering into the fray.” Roxon simply said: “It’s naming things as they are.”Despite this, the advert was listed as one of the most complained about in 2012.
We either love them or loathe them – and just like those A-listers – campaigns will always be subject to Twitter counterblasts or social reassurance. But to avoid the kind of ongoing publicity that can scar your brand, a bit of common sense and a flick through the news might just do the trick.
PLAY’s Sanders says: “There’s always something to be upset about, and brands with big budgets and big voices are simply falling victim to this. The wider you spread your message, the more likely you’ll reach someone who will hate it.”